Dr Who – Jon Pertwee – the Third Doctor

For all Doctor Who fans, it's a time for reflection, anticipation and perhaps a little bit of grief at the upcoming passing of another Doctor! I have loved Matt Smith's tenure at the Doctor, but to be honest, I tend to like all of the Doctors, seeing each one as a new role and enjoying what each brings to the role.

It seemed therefore like a great time to continue our Dr Who series, and we are already up to Jon Pertwee, who is number three. We are still before my time watching Dr Who, and if I am honest, he is not my favourite, I think this has a lot to do with the fact that I absolutely hated, and it brings out a cringe in me now; Worzel Gummage, I found the series beyond irritating, I just couldn’t sit and watch it without becoming incredibly annoyed. So my view of Jon Pertwee as the Doctor is inevitably clouded by this.

But we shall continue on regardless….

John Devon Roland Pertwee, known as Jon, was born 7 July 1919 and played the Doctor for four years, from 1970 to 1974. He was fifty-one when he took over the role of the Doctor, continuing the tradition of slightly older men playing the Doctor. Before playing the Doctor, Pertwee had already had an interesting and varied career.

Pertwee came from a family steeped in acting tradition, being the son of Roland Pertwee a noted screenwriter and actor, and he was also related to well known British actor Bill Pertwee. Pertwee is descended from the Huguenots, his full surname being "de Perthuis de Laillevault".

I think it is safe to say Pertwee's educational career was not a successful venture! He attended various independent schools, all of which he was expelled from! He was even expelled from RADA (Royal Academy of Dramatic Art) apparently because he refused to play a Greek “wind” and for writing graffiti on the toilet walls about his tutors!

It would seem this rebellious streak did not hold him back, and during the Second World War Pertwee was an officer in the Royal Navy, and for some time was attached to the highly-secretive Naval Intelligence Division. Interestingly, he worked with Ian Fleming who, of course, created and wrote James Bond, they reported directly to the then Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

When asked about what he did during the war, he said "I did all sorts. Teaching commandos how to use escapology equipment, compasses in brass buttons, secret maps in white cotton handkerchiefs, pipes you could smoke that also fired a .22 bullet. All sorts of incredible things."

His rebellious streak never left him, and one morning after a drunken night out while in port, Pertwee woke to find a tattoo of a cobra on his right arm.

It was after the end of the Second World War that his acting career took off, rather than start out on the stage, he made a name for himself in radio, in comedic roles, most memorably for those who can remember that far back, on the BBC's comedy “The Navy Lark”.

In the 1960's and 1970's he worked prolifically, starring on the West End stage, in films and in the incredibly popular at the time Carry On Films (in 1964 in Carry On Cleo as the soothsayer, in 1966 in Carry On Screaming as Dr. Fettle, in 1965 in Carry On Cowboy Sheriff Earp and in 1992 in the very ill-fated Carry On Columbus as the Duke of Costa Brava).

In the 1970's he began acting on the TV, the roles initially were quite small, appearing in the The Avengers, and The Goodies' .

And it was of course in 1970 that he became the next Doctor, taking over from Patrick Troughton, it was Pertwee himself who asked to be put forward for the role, which his agent did, only to discover that Pertwee was already on the short list! In fact he was the second choice, only getting the role when the first actor was unable to take it up. Pertwee most definitely brought a new feel to the role, the first two Doctors had been been more serious, keeping with the television series' initial brief – to be a educational programme for all the family. Pertwee's incarnation was flamboyant with fancy clothes, hankering after adventure. His was the longest running doctor at that point, playing the role for five series', until the middle of 1974 (although Hartnell starred in more episodes).

Pertwee's Doctor spent most of his time exiled on earth, working (somewhat begrudgingly), in UNIT (UNified Intelligence Taskforce, or United Nations Intelligence Taskforce), where his love of technology and gadgets came to the fore, of course the Doctor has to take to the skies sometimes, and so the timelords sending him on missions to distant planets was always welcome! The third doctor marked a definite change, he was adventurous, happy to take on his enemies hand to hand, but had a more forceful and fun character than the first two doctors.

Pertwee's Doctor was the first to be filmed, and broadcast in colour!

It was in 1974 that Pertwee announced he was going to be stepping down from the role, citing of course typecasting, but also a desire to return to the stage, which he did in The Bedwinner (in later interviews, Pertwee said the death of co-star and friend Roger Delgado and his co-star Katy Manning and producer Barry Letts both leaving, were the real reason).

During, and after Dr Who, Pertwee's long and successful career continued (he filmed the 1971 film “The House that Dripped Blood” between Dr Who series').

Of course then came the Worzel Gummege years (1974 to 1978), for those not aware it was a children's TV series in which Pertwee played a scarecrow, and I disliked it so intensely that that is all I am prepared to say on the matter!

Right up until his death in 1996 (aged 76) Pertwee continued to be involved with Dr Who; in 1983 he played the Doctor again in the 20th anniversary television special, 'The Five Doctors', and again in 1993 he played the Doctor as part of the BBC's Children in Need charity special, 'Dimensions in Time'. In 1989, he played the Doctor in the stage play 'Doctor Who – The Ultimate Adventure'. He presented two Doctor Who video releases, 'The Troughton Years' and 'The Pertwee Years', in the early 1990s. His involvement doesn’t end there, in 1993, Pertwee was featured in the Dr Who 'unofficial' 30th anniversary release – '30 Years of Time Travel and Beyond'.

Pertwee died on 20 May 1996, from a heart attack, at which time he was regularly seen on British TV screens starring in a commercial for the mobile phone operator Vodafone, in which he was much like his Doctor Who character.

The Doctor till the end!